MiÖ Modules

MiÖ-STAT – STATistical data on historical multilingualism in Austria


As already suggested by its name, MiÖ-STAT will contain statistical data on multilingualism in Austria in its widest sense, i.e.; the data will stem from various sources, such as official censuses, school statistics and reports, linguistic surveys, and (scientific) literature. Besides purely quantitative data, such as census data, we will also include data from specific domains and with a qualitative aspect. School statistics and reports, for instance, are an example for sources from a specific domain. Sociolinguistic information from questionnaires for the Deutscher Sprachatlas (German linguistic atlas), on the other hand, contain valuable and additional qualitative information. Both kinds of data closely interact and overlap with, but also supplement the quantitative data gained through censuses.


By way of qualification, it must be conceded that we share the reservations about the exclusive and unquestioned use of census data as sources in sociolinguistic research. As Ana Deumert puts it, this approach “objectifies complex social phenomena, […] obscures the variability and complexity of ‘linguistic practices’ in multilingual societies” and, thus, renders them invisible (Deumert 2010: 18).

Moreover, when analysing historical data, such as the ones from the censuses in the Habsburg monarchy (1880, 1890, 1900, and 1910) or those from the interwar years (1923, 1934), it is crucial to pay attention to the historical conditions in which the data was collected. These conditions have been researched, for example, by Emil Brix (1982) for the Habsburg monarchy. Another crucial factor is the exact formulation of the language question, which varies over the course of time and influences the answers decisively. Being asked for one’s mother tongue, one’s membership to a certain language community or one’s colloquial language, a multilingual person will likely give different answers, all of which might be true (cf. Prochazka 2018). Additionally, questionnaires might have been changed in retrospect in order to suit legislative or legal requirements – such as, for example, the intended (in)visibility of certain minorities or minority languages. Rights for linguistic minorities are often tied to population size, which is determined by official censuses. This way, a certain percentage of Carinthian Slovene people (as members of the Slovene ethnic group) was determined in the Austrian Ethnic Minority Law of 1976, in order to decide in which Carinthian villages bilingual place name signs should be installed. Consequently, this percentage was regularly contested and disputed. The basis for the calculation was the question of people’s colloquial language in the Austrian census – however, in the Ethnic Minority law, the mother tongue is fixed as a feature of belonging to a certain ethnic group – not the colloquial language. In this case, census data have not been forged, but still they have been used for major political decisions and to provide an answer for a question that has never been phrased in this way.

In order to identify and contextualise cases and incidents like these, it is crucial to compare various sources. MiÖ-STAT can and should contribute to enable researchers to make comparisons for as many scenarios and places as possible (cf., for instance, the example of Waltersdorf an der March or Chvalatice in the next section).

Similar strong reservations concerning the above-mentioned data sources can be expressed regarding the more qualitative and domain specific sources. The statements on Wenker's questionnaires (‘Wenkerbögen’) are based on the subjective opinion of individual primary school teachers and their assessment of non-German languages spoken in the specific town or village where a school is located. Moreover, they also depend on the teachers’ willingness to share this information. Thus, for example, the response rate and quality varies considerably across different regions. Whereas teachers in South Moravia almost entirely offer precise quantitative assessments of how many Czech-speaking people live in the according village or town (cf. Kim 2018), most replies in Lower Austria are by far not as detailed and mainly of qualitative character (cf. Kim in press).

In the light of the above, it is vital to maintain a critical stance towards the use of statistical data when determining language use. However, we are convinced that the data available on MiÖ-STAT will present a comprehensive picture of historical multilingualism in Austria. In order to achieve this goal, MiÖ-STAT explicitly draws the attention to problems and politicisations related to the use of statistical data, and does not merely provide them without comments.

Historical contextualisation and connecting various sources

The explanations above underline the necessity to critically assess and contextualise (historical) statistical data and thus present its limitations concerning its usefulness in answering certain (research) questions. Simultaneously, this thorough examination enables us to identify not only the strong points, but also possible connection points to other sources. The combination of various sources then allows us to cope with their individual weaknesses and limitations and to construct a complex and comprehensive picture of the language contact situation.

How this can be achieved, is shown not only in the blog entry MiÖ, man! (including the example of Waltersdorf an der March; cf. Kim in press). Another good example are the developments in a South Moravian municipality in the late 19th and early 20th century. Until 1924, the two villages Chvalatice (German Chawalatitz) and Šreflová (today Zálesí, German Schröffelsdorf) formed a joint municipality carrying the name of the older and bigger village – Chvalatice. According to census data of the Habsburg monarchy, the majority of people living in both villages spoke German. In Chvalatice, the percentage of the Czech (actually “Czech-Moravian-Slovak”) minority was small, but constant between 1880 and 1910. Thus, it can be considered a monolingual space. In Šreflová, on the other hand, the percentage of Czech speaking people fluctuated considerably and reached about 38% in 1900. Nonetheless, the municipality Chvalatice as a whole was always considered an integrative part of German South Moravia.

The school chronicles of the two primary schools provide a valuable new perspective, since they – apart from the history of the school – also deal with the language situation of the pupils. The chronicle from Šreflová characterises the school locality as a primarily Czech-speaking village, where the inhabitants speak German for economical reasons; however, their variety of German is rather a South Moravian and thus a substandard variety. After WWI, this societal multilingualism was banned from Šreflová and the village was constructed as a monolingual Czech-speaking space. This cannot only be deduced from the school chronicle, but also the administrative division (cf. Schinko/Kim/Engleder in press).

Such examples show that despite all the limitations and the necessity of the contextualisation discussed above, statistical data can be a valuable starting point for case studies and may help to identify relevant research questions.

Purpose and aim

In particular, the statistical data from various sources gathered in MiÖ-STAT will serve to make historical multilingualism visible where it is not part of contemporary public knowledge and awareness. In addition, the data will be fed into and displayed in the Special Research Programme’s geographical information system. Thus, the data will be easily accessible for the general public as well.

Task Cluster C strives to show a broad picture exceeding Austria’s present-day borders and to present cross-border networks (cf. Kim 2018).

MiÖ-STAT is developed as a central output of PP05.

Published results related to MiÖ-STAT

Kim, Agnes (2018): „Von ‚rein deutschen‘ Orten und ‚tschechischen Minderheiten‘: Spracheinstellungen und bevölkerungspolitisches Bewusstsein in den Wenkerbögen“. In: Philipp, Hannes / Ströbel, Andrea / Weber, Bernadette / Wellner, Johann (eds.): Deutsch in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa. DiMOS-Füllhorn Nr. 3. Beiträge zur 3. Jahrestagung des Forschungszentrums Deutsch in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa (FZ DiMOS) vom 29. September – 01. Oktober 2016 in Regensburg (= Forschungen zur deutschen Sprache in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa FzDiMOS – Band 6) Regensburg: Universität Regensburg (Open Access Schriftenreihe der Universitätsbibliothek Regensburg), 275–318. [URL: https://epub.uni-regensburg.de/37387/]

Kim, Agnes / Newerkla, Stefan Michael (in print): „Das Paradox der Toleranz. Sprachliche Nationalisierung des Mittelschulwesens in Böhmen und Mähren im langen 19. Jahrhundert“. In: Jahrbuch des Bundesinstituts für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa. Band 26.

Kim, Agnes (in print): “Multilingual Lower Austria. Historical sociolinguistic investigations on the Wenker questionnaires”. In: Bülow, Lars / Fischer, Ann-Kathrin / Herbert, Kristina (eds.): Linguistische Dimensionen im Varietätenspektrum: Variation – Mehrsprachigkeit – Konzeptualisierung. Berlin et al.: Peter Lang (= Schriften zur deutschen Sprache in Österreich).

Newerkla, Stefan Michael (2018): „Wie toleranzintendierte Sprachengesetze zur nationalen Segregation führten – Die Aushöhlung des deutschen Schulwesens in Plzeň/ Pilsen im langen 19. Jahrhundert“. In: Philipp, Hannes / Ströbel, Andrea / Weber, Bernadette / Wellner, Johann (eds.): Deutsch in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa. DiMOS-Füllhorn Nr. 3. Beiträge zur 3. Jahrestagung des Forschungszentrums Deutsch in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa (FZ DiMOS) vom 29. September – 01. Oktober 2016 in Regensburg (= Forschungen zur deutschen Sprache in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa FzDiMOS – Band 6) Regensburg: Universität Regensburg (Open Access Schriftenreihe der Universitätsbibliothek Regensburg), 372–397. [URL: https://epub.uni-regensburg.de/37387/]

Newerkla, Stefan Michael (2018): “Historical multilingualism in Bohemia during the 19th century: The liberalisation of the language policy and its effects on the situation in Plzeň’s educational system”. In: Kretschmer, Anna / Neweklowsky, Gerhard / Newerkla, Stefan Michael / Poljakov, Fedor (eds.): Mehrheiten ↔ Minderheiten: Sprachlich-kulturelle Identitäten der Slavia im Wandel der Zeit Berlin et al.: Peter Lang (= Philologica Slavica Vindobonensia 4 ), 213–228.

Prochazka, Katharina (2018): „Minderheitensprachen zählen! Über Sprachzählungen und Minderheiten(-sprachen)“. Wiener Linguistische Gazette 83, 1–26. [URL: https://wlg.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/p_wlg/832018/prochazka-minderheiten-zaehlen.pdf].

Schinko, Maria / Kim, Agnes / Engleder, David (in print): „Von ‚rein deutschen‘ Orten und ‚tschechischen Minderheiten‘ II. Einflussfaktoren auf das Antwortverhalten bezüglich demographischer Fragestellungen in den Wenkerbögen aus globaler wie lokaler Perspektive mit besonderem Fokus auf die Volksschule in Šreflová“. In: N. N. (eds.): Beiträge zur 4. Jahrestagung des Forschungszentrums Deutsch in Mittel , Ost- und Südosteuropa (FZ DiMOS).


Brix, Emil (1982): Die Umgangssprachen in Altösterreich zwischen Agitation und Assimilation. Die Sprachenstatistik in den zisleithanischen Volkszählungen 1880 bis 1910. Wien, Köln, Graz: Hermann Böhlaus Nachf. (= Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Neuere Geschichte Österreichs 72).

Deumert, Ana (2010): “Tracking the demographics of (urban) language shift – an analysis of South African census data”. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 1/31. 13–35.

MiÖ-SAKON – Linguistic Areal- and Contact phenomena in DiÖ (German in Austria)


MiÖ-SAKON compiles and studies an extensive collection of linguistic phenomena that have been described as specific for a distinct variety of German in Austria, and explained as an areal or a contact phenomenon. It thus fulfils the main aim of PP06. The module’s name refers to its contents, since SAKON is an abbreviation for German Sprachliche Areal- und Kontaktphänomene, ‘Linguistic areal and contact phenomena’. Contact phenomena are linguistic features in a certain language, for which another language can be identified as the source language. Loanwords and foreign words are prominent examples for such phenomena. Areal phenomena, on the other hand, occur in geographically adjacent, but not necessarily closely related languages. Thus, these phenomena are somehow associated with each other, even though it cannot be decided which language passed them on to the others.

MiÖ-SAKON will contain a comprehensive collection of alleged contact phenomena and will link them with other layers of information, such as information on their geographical distribution and their development.


Another central component of MiÖ-SAKON is the bibliographical or metalinguistic one. It makes accessible the scientific, linguistic literature of the 19th and the early 20th century covering the topic of areal and language contact phenomena in German in Austria. The target group is not only the scientific community, but also teachers and students at schools.

Another explicit goal of MiÖ-SAKON is the historical contextualisation of the literature and the detection of overt as well as covert references. Consequently, it aims to reveal links between citations and existing knowledge. MiÖ-SAKON thus provides necessary information for plausibility assessments regarding the given contact explanations for individual linguistic phenomena in German in Austria.

Not to forget (about) an example

The following example illustrates how research gaps will be identified by MiÖ-SAKON. One of the alleged contact phenomena in DiÖ are prepositional arguments with the cognitive verb ‘to forget’, German vergessen.

In Standard German, the verb vergessen governs an accusative object [vergessen + acc]; however, some online dictionaries also mention the possibility of a prepositional argument for the verb vergessen [vergessen auf + acc]. The Online-Duden classifies this collocation as “regional, especially in Southern Germany and Austria” (23.09.2018). Similarly, the Wörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (DWDS, Dictionary of Contemporary German) states that the collocation is „regional, (especially) Austrian, colloquial”. In Austrian newspapers, both constructions can be found:

[vergessen + acc]

Die Heimelf war klar überlegen und spielte sich in einen wahren Rausch,

vergaß  dabei  aber  nicht  das  Tore-schießen
forget[PST.3SG]  thereby  but  NEG  the [DET.DEF.ACC]  goal-shoot-INF[SG.ACC] 

'The home team was clearly superior and played as if in a delirium. However, in doing so they did not forget to score goals.'

(DeReKo-2017-I / Burgenländische Volkszeitung, 05. 08. 2010)


[vergessen auf + acc]

Nach dem schnellen Tor

hab-en  wir  auf-s  Tore-Schieß-en  vergess-en.
AUX-PRS.1PL  we  on-DET.DEF.ACC  goal-shoot-INF[SG.ACC]  forget-INF 

 'After the quick goal we forgot to score.'

(DeReKo-2017-I / Burgenländische Volkszeitung, 18. 03. 2010)


In Czech, both constructions – the one with an accusative and the one with a prepositional argument – are codified for different meanings of the Czech equivalent of the verb ‘to forget’, zapomínat/zapomenout.

In the German language of the Habsburg monarchy of the 19th and the early 20th century yet another construction can be found, namely, a prepositional argument with the preposition an [vergessen an + acc]: 

[vergessen an + acc]

Man war verblüfft und

vergaß  an  die  heiter-e  Bewegung 
forget-PST.3SG  on  DET.DEF.ACC.SG  cheerful-ACC.SG  movement-ACC.SG 


und den witzigen Dialog, die man eben so sehr belacht, als man das anziehende Spiel des Frl. Kronau und des Hrn. Tewele und die Komik des drolligen Hrn. Blasel mit Beifall bedacht hatte.

'One was astonished and forgot the cheerful move and the witty dialogue, which one had just laughed at, when applauding the compelling play of Miss Kronau and Mister Tewele and the humour of the funny Mister Blasel.'

(ANNO / Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst, 12. 03. 1872).

A similar variation of prepositions within prepositional objects in German in Austria can be detected with regard to the cognitive verbs sich erinnern [an/auf + acc] (to remember) and denken [an/auf + acc] (to think) (cf., for example, the entries in the DWDS erinnern and denken, 23.09.2018). This variation correlates with a general “confusion” of the prepositions auf and an in German in Austria. This leads to a widespread use of auf in cases, in which Standard German only allows for an, e.g. in the phrase auf der Universität ‘at university’ (cf. Newerkla 2007: 280).

This is often being explained by the fact that in Czech there is only one equivalent for the two German prepositions; Czech na corresponds to German an as well as to German auf. Over the course of time, this specification could have been transferred by bilingual people or rather Czech learners of German and could have consequently influenced the German in Austria. Such an explanation cannot be instantly rejected, as it sounds quite plausible.

A look at the literature

Nevertheless, it is informative and revealing to take a closer look at how the variation in case government and the choice of prepositions with the cognitive verb vergessen are being described in relevant scientific literature.

To begin with, in his PhD thesis from 2003, Dalibor Zeman treated these phenomena as “structural parallels between Austrian German and Czech” (Parallelen des österreichischen Deutsch und des Tschechischen). However, when it comes to the assessment of the contact explanation, he only cites consultations with different Austrian linguists, who either argue for a “general influence of the monarchy”, such as Maria Hornung, or think that the contact explanation in respect to these phenomena should be treated with caution (cf. Zeman 2003: 275–277). Zeman cannot provide information from any thorough studies.

Differently, Boris Blahak (2015: 509) concludes in his elaborated PhD thesis on Kafka’s language(s) that today, we cannot decide anymore whether the prepositional argument with vergessen [vergessen auf/an + acc] can be traced back to interference with Czech. Blahak refers to two major pieces of literature that are particularly interesting in this context as they argue for a contact related explanation of the phenomenon. On the one hand, there is a book published in 1884 named Der Kampf um die Sprache (The battle over language), which was written by the Prague-based theatre critic Heinrich Teweles. On the other hand, Blahak cites an article about grammatical and pragmatical features of the Austrian variety of German by Rudolf Muhr, which was published in 1995. Even if this article does not focus on language contact phenomena, it still highlights the construction [vergessen auf + acc] as being specific for German in Austria, and, in brackets, the author puts the fairly brief information that it results from language contact with Czech and Slovak. Like Zeman, Blahak does not refer to any empirical studies, either.

General knowledge about language contact?

It seems as if there has not been a single thorough study regarding the discussed phenomena between 1884 and 1995, or that at least no comprehensive study has been published until today. Nonetheless, with regard to the above mentioned and other phenomena, knowledge about language contact of German in Austria and Slavic languages, especially with Czech, has been passed on in the scientific community for many years.

Some of the language contact explanations seem quite plausible even after being subjected to scrutiny with the help of modern sociolinguistic and language contact methods. However, they have not been researched in detail. Thus, we may conclude that such phenomena reached a status of commonplaces among linguists of the Second Republic. Like a tale, they have been retold again and again by linguistic authorities. Consequently, they have gained explanatory power, although this knowledge is not the result of any scientifically valid study.

Task Cluster C will not be able to fill all the relevant gaps, but MIÖ-SAKON will at least help to identify them, generate stimuli and provide new impulses for future studies. At the same time, detailed case studies concerning, for example, the verb vergessen are being conducted in cooperating projects, such as the CENTRAL-Kolleg.

Published results related to MiÖ-SAKON

Kim, Agnes (in print): “Prepositions in the melting pot: High risk of infection. Language contact of German in Austria with Slavic languages and its linguistic and extra-linguistic description”. In: Szucsich, Luka / Kim, Agnes / Yazhinova, Uliana (eds.): Areal Convergence in Eastern Central European Languages and Beyond. Berlin et al.: Peter Lang (= Linguistik International).

Kim, Agnes / Scharf, Sebastian / Šimko, Ivan (in print): “Variation in case government of the equivalent for the cognitive verb to forget in German in Austria and Czech”. In: Szucsich, Luka / Kim, Agnes / Yazhinova, Uliana (eds.): Areal Convergence in Eastern Central European Languages and Beyond. Berlin et al.: Peter Lang (= Linguistik International).


Blahak, Boris (2015): Franz Kafkas Literatursprache. Deutsch im Kontext des Prager Multilingualismus. Köln: Böhlau.

Muhr, Rudolf (1995): „Grammatische und pragmatische Merkmale des österreichischen Deutsch“. In: Muhr, Rudolf / Schrodt, Richard / Wiesinger, Peter (eds.): Österreichisches Deutsch. Linguistische, sozialpsychologische und sprachpolitische Aspekte einer nationalen Variante des Deutschen. Wien: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky. 208–234.

Newerkla, Stefan Michael (2007): „Areály jazykového kontaktu ve střední Evropě a německo-český mikroareál ve východním Rakousku“ [Areas of language contact in central Europe and the German-Czech microarea in Eastern Austria]. Slovo a slovesnost 68. 271–286.

Teweles, Heinrich (1884): Der Kampf um die Sprache. Linguistische Plaudereien. Leipzig: Reißner.

Zeman, Dalibor (2003): Das österreichische Deutsch und die österreichisch-tschechischen Sprachbeziehungen. Ein kulturhistorischer und sprachlicher Abriß. Dissertation. Universität Wien: Institut für Germanistik.

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
Agnes Kim, Katharina Prochazka, Stefan Michael Newerkla and Lena Katzinger (translation) (2021): MiÖ Modules.
In: DiÖ-Online.
URL: https://www.dioe.at/en/projects/task-cluster-c-contact/mioe-a-framework/mioe-modules
[Access: 13.06.2024]